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PAHO, IDB and Sabin refine fight against neglected diseases in Latin America and Caribbean

Washington, D. C., 16 December 2008 (PAHO)—With more than 210 million poor people bearing the burden of neglected diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and partner agencies are setting up a trust fund to control and eliminate these "forgotten" diseases.

Intestinal worm infections, river blindness, leprosy, Chagas disease and schistosomiasis all have an enormous negative impact on developing countries in terms of disease burden, reducing worker productivity and hampering the intellectual and cognitive development of children. The economic impact of these neglected diseases is estimated to be as great as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and they are serious obstacles to socioeconomic development and quality of life at all levels in endemic countries.

However, tools and cost-effective technologies already exist to control and even eliminate of many of them, experts at the meeting said today.  Participants at the meeting came from six countries and a number of partner agencies including the US Agency for International Development, Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for Rabies Control, and others. They discussed the details of a Latin American and Caribbean trust Fund for the Prevention, Control and Elimination of Neglected and Other Infectious Diseases

"It is an ethical imperative that we increase the effort to control and eliminate these neglected infectious diseases," said Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of PAHO, in a message to open the meeting cosponsored by PAHO, IDB, and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

"In this Region we cannot continue to live with this situation," said Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, manager of Health Surveillance and Disease Prevention and Control at PAHO.   "We have the tools and the interventions and I believe that it is possible to eliminate some of these diseases within a period of 5 to 10 years." 

This group of diseases is the most common cause of infection in some 200 million people in the Americas, including tens of millions of cases of intestinal parasitosis, almost 10 million infected with Chagas’ disease.  Other diseases in this group are lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, helminthic infections transmitted by contact with soil, and human rabies transmitted by dogs.

The health effects of these neglected diseases vary but include anemia, blindness, malnutrition and impaired childhood growth and development, damage to internal organs, permanent long-term physical disability and premature death. Although low-cost, effective interventions are available, the majority of affected people do not have access to them.

Dr. Peter Hotez, Coordinator of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, pointed out that international agencies tend to focus on poverty reduction in Africa and Asia, and forget that more than 100 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live on less than $2 a day.  The neglected diseases, he said, constitute a "perfect storm against the potential for life and development," and while they may not kill people, they severely limit the physical and intellectual potential of millions of children.

In a current context of crisis and insecurity in world markets, "We need more than ever to maintain the momentum against neglected diseases", said Dr. Kei Kawabata, sector manager at the IDB.   "Our mandate is to alleviate poverty but without political will it is very difficult to meet these targets. These are not forgotten diseases, but forgotten people," she noted.

PAHO and partner agencies are already planning detailed epidemiological mapping of these diseases to establish baselines for elimination efforts, said Dr. Ximena Aguilera, coordinator of the Project on Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases at PAHO. Analyses show that some areas have overlapping incidence of several neglected diseases at the same time, and that soil-transmitted helminths, or intestinal worms, are likely to be present in all countries of the region, she said.
 
PAHO and partner agencies are already planning detailed epidemiological mapping of these diseases to establish baselines for elimination efforts, said Dr. Ximena Aguilera, coordinator of the Project on Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases at PAHO. Analyses show that some areas have overlapping incidence of several neglected diseases at the same time, and that soil-transmitted helminths, or intestinal worms, are likely to be present in all countries of the region, she said.

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Last Updated on Friday, 15 February 2013 15:25

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